This is Oskar
My now husband (then fiancée) Nick and I had an ongoing conversation about our future dog, the one we'd get when we had kids old enough to help with the responsibilities and when our schedules were a little less career driven and more domestically based. Perhaps not living in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
Since growing up with dachshunds, I was hell-bent on having another. Nick would shake his head and point out that if I would not have a large dog he wanted, like a boxer we would have to find a nice middle-sized dog we could agree on. I had no hesitation pointing out I'd eventually get my way even if I had to bribe a few kids to sway a family vote my way. I figure I had years to make my case.
While back in the Midwest last Christmas we got the news that Nick's childhood elderly neighbor, Dee had suddenly passed. Growing up Dee and her husband Werner (who had passed years earlier) were special to Nick. After bonding over their love of John Deere tractors Werner and Dee treated Nick as a grandchild. They spent a lot of time in his garage fixing things. Nick spoke fondly of them and often. I was looking forward to meeting Dee at our spring wedding.
Nick took the news hard. I switched my flight so I could stay an extra day to attend the funeral service. Nick wanted to buy a new suit for the occasion since he hadn't traveled with one. I assured him people would understand if he was dressed down. He didn't care. He wanted to give Dee the final respect she deserved. A new suit it was.
When we arrived to the church for her service, there was a small memorial for Dee, which included a framed 8X10 picture taken by Olan Mills. Dee was proudly cradling a shorthaired red dachshund named Oskar. I immediately loved them both.
Nick insisted we sit up front. The gathering was small but the love was large. The pastor gave a beautiful service. Somewhere in the middle, he asked us to say a prayer for Oskar, as he did not have a forever home to go to yet. He would temporarily move to Minnesota (to live with cats!) until the family could properly place him. I looked at Nick. His heart was broken and it showed.
"We're taking Oskar to New York." I whispered.
"What?” Nick asked as though he did not hear me.
“Oskar. The dog. We’re taking him to New York.” .
The vote was unanimous.
After the service we went to the basement of the church for a meal. Dee's stepson Bill came over to greet us.
"So you're getting married in a few months?" He asked. I ignored the question.
"Do you think Oskar could adjust to being a city dog? Nick is staying a few more days but I'm leaving for New York in four hours. We want to adopt him. Can I meet him?"
We left the church and went to Dee's house. Oskar stood guard in the living room. He was not the dark-red haired pup in the picture but a grumpy 13-year-old with a white face and sort of golden body. We were not well received. He was confused and scared. He barked and hardly let us get close. It was too overwhelming. Nick thought maybe it was a bad idea, he couldn't tell if Oskar remembered him anyhow. Maybe this was too much too fast.
We had previously decided that a young energetic dog was too much work and we didn't have much space to run around in. it would be unfair. This old guy was currently living in a house the size of our apartment and spent most of the day sleeping. He definitely wasn't getting much exercise (she tried guys, she really did). I knew we could offer him a new lease on life. New York is a great place for dogs. I wanted to show him Central Park and our local dog run. We could dine al fresco at the many dog friendly places we passed by daily. We could take him to the pier on the Hudson just a short walk from our apartment. The transit system is dog friendly (with rules to abide by), so think of the day trips! I was already planning a sip and see with our friends.
We had another day to decide. I flew back home that night. Nick and Dee's children took Oskar to the vet the next day. His checkup went well. Dee kept on top of his health. He was a young 13. I waited for the call to talk it over one more time. The call came but the decision had been made. Once Nick saw the little guy again he knew we were taking him even if he needed special healthcare. They had already been to the pet store and had a bath. He was ours.
Though Oskar had been cleared for flying, Nick opted to cancel his flight and drive Oskar fourteen hours to New York City later that week. No need traumatize the little guy any further. Four days later they arrived to our home on the Upper West Side as best friends.
Oskar imprinted on Nick. The guy who quipped we'd never get a dachshund sleeps on the floor next to Oskar every time he's ill. He carries him when his little legs are tired. Though we brought everything Oskar owned with him to NYC we eventually transition him to new beds and bowls. Nick buys him the best of everything. Stairs to climb up on the couch? An hour of research. New toys? As many as he wants. Cute sweaters and dapper bow ties? Well, that's my department.
Oskar has lost 8lbs since we've had him as we are able to give him more exercise than Dee could. He's getting used to the idea of making friends with other dogs but mostly he just like to smell where they have been. Especially the dog gangs (groups with dog walkers). Everyone in our building knows Oskar. Everyone loves Oskar. He has figured this out so he expects an ear scratch or belly rub from everyone. Walking him is a production.
Oskar keeps everything in order. He hates when we are on a computer or a phone for too long. He still protects the apartment by barking at the nice people that deliver food to us and mumbles at the guy who vacuums the hallway every day (but only momentarily). He tries to get us into bed early and signs heavily if we show any affection that doesn’t include him. He scolds us if his dinner is a minute late or not warm enough. Oskar runs this place.
Yes, we took in an elderly dog and people thank us for that but honestly, Oskar is a gift and we cherish him every day. Even the ones he just walks around old man barking under his breath at us. "These young kids... always moving around doing stuff." In these moments, I like to remind him he could have lived with cats.
Nick and I hadn't been dating for very long when I introduced him to the family I was acting as a nanny for. A family I knew through other families I had worked for when I was younger, a family that like many others treated me as a member of their own. I had gone back to watching their three kids (Stella, then eight, Alexandra, then seven, and Matthew, then eleven) after leaving a desk job that my heart was no longer invested in. My heart was no longer invested in many things, partly because of a short but substantial battle with Lyme Disease (but that's another story).
The kids' mother had recently had back surgery so I was working occasional weekends to help manage their active schedules. Nick and I had only been dating a few months, a time when weekends are normally reserved for spending every second with the newness of a relationship. The kids' parents welcomed the idea of having Nick tag along for some of our activities so I could spend time with him but also help them out in a pinch. I relished the idea of putting Nick to the "kid test" early on in our relationship.
The first kid Nick met was Stella. He and I had squeezed in a lunch before I was to pick her up at an Upper East Side birthday party at a country club. We were nearby so he walked me over and kept me company as we waited for the last of the games the kids were playing to finish. I pointed out Stella. She has no idea I was bringing Nick. We watched intently until she looked up and found us in the crowd. I mouthed "NICK!" pointing at him - she smiled with a look that conveyed, "I figured." That night at dinner Stella loudly reported, "When Nick put us in the cab he kissed Michele on her forehead. Really, I saw it."
The next time Nick accompanied me on nanny duty it was with the girls on a cancer walk in Central Park. Their mom could hardly sit up let alone embark on distant walking.The girls had their hearts set on attending the charitable event so instead of a boozy brunch downtown, Nick and I donned matching tee shirts and managed a small group of elementary school girls on a few loops of the lower part of the park. That night at dinner Stella and Alexandra made sure their parents and Matthew were aware, "Nick and Michele held hands the entire time!"
The kids had only met Nick a half a dozen times before Stella asked me, "So when are you going to tell him you L-O-V-E him?"
"What? I just met him. Love takes time. Just because you go on a bunch of dates does not mean you love someone. You don't just throw the word love around. You need to be sure. Really sure."
"He loves you too, I can tell by the way he looks at you."
"What? No. What?"
"The way you look at each other - that's love. You're in love."
A few nights later I was on the train home when I found a little note folded up in my purse. The note was address:
To: Nick From: Stella
I opened it. It read:
TO: Nick Michele Love's you.
That Stella! She must have thought Nick would find the note himself and then declare his love for me.
I folded the note back how I found it and placed it securely in my wallet. I kept that note on me every day until I was really, really sure I loved him (which was after our first fight, on a corner in the West Village after day drinking at the Belmont, but that's another story). When the time came (well... the second time the time came...the first time I chickened out) I give Nick the note. That's how I told him I loved him for the first time.
When I moved in with Nick we framed Stella's note and hung it in our bedroom as a daily reminder of the love a little girl saw in our eyes even before we admitted out loud.
Since then Stella and her family moved to Washington DC. Nick and I try to visit every few months. Sometimes I get the feeling they are more excited to see him than me. Our last visit in 2015 was for Halloween. When were leaving and saying our goodbyes Stella declared, "Well, you better call us," to which I replied, "You can call us too. It works both ways." She just smiled at me.
Then a handful of weeks later, on December 12, 2015, a Saturday, Nick came into our room and he knelt down beside our bed where I was still fighting with the idea of getting up. He stated he had something for me and handed me a piece of paper (technically two, but that's another story). It was written in that same familiar little handwriting. This time it read:
To: Michele From: Stella
I opened it. Inside was:
Nick wants to Marry You.
When he cleared the lump in his throat Nick asked me to spend the rest of my life with him.
I came across this email from 2008. I had been fish-sitting for a family with two young girls while they were on vacation.
I regret to inform you that when I arrived to your apartment this afternoon I found a floater. Freddy was D.O.A.
I did everything I could think of, I even performed fishy CPR - but it was too late. I couldn’t bring him back. Freddy was pronounced dead at 2:47 pm. He looked very peaceful and it is assumed he passed quickly and quietly in his sleep. I scooped Freddy out and carefully packaged him for a trip to Central Park. Paula swam around and watched. She looked rather sad (and probably horrified as she was most likely the first one to have found him) but I fed her, and with Freddy no longer floating around I think the overall mood of the tank improved.
I took Freddy to the park to return him to mother earth. I found a beautiful tree by the water and dug a small hole and placed him in it. He was a good fish and I said a few nice words about our short time together.
I’m sorry for your loss.
I'm standing in apartment 3B, over my neighbor Savannah's bed. Since our tiny studios have the same floor plan whenever one of us rearranges we invite the other over to show off whatever brilliant space-saving idea we've come up with to improve our living environment and also to share how happy this decision has made us. Savannah, a social worker, and I have been neighbors for just over a year and have weekly check-ins consisting of; who we are dating (or aren’t anymore), what’s new at work, and which family member is currently driving us crazy and why. These conversations are normally over wine and often on our roof. Savannah has just moved her bed to the opposite corner of her apartment and wants my approval.
“I had my bed on that wall for a while. What's your escape route?" I ask before taking a sip of wine.
“What do you mean?”
“Your bed is next the fire escape gate. You can’t open it with your bed next to it. What’s your emergency escape plan?”
"I would start moving furniture that way," she says, motioning outward from the bed. "I would move the table over and then shove my bed back enough so that I could get between the bed and window and then open the gate and go out."
"Wait-what? First, that takes way too much time. Second, do you realize how far you have to push the bed to get the gate open enough for you to fit through? Is there enough room between your bed and your dresser to allow that? Have you done a dry run?"
"Do you know how far over you have to push your bed to clear the gate?"
"No. I’ll figure it out if and when the time comes," she says, nonchalantly.
"What if there isn't time?" I ask, setting my wine on table that fits her laptop, a book and not much more. Using my hands and arms I explain we must think of the worst case scenario to be prepared. "You wake up! There's smoke! Fire is making its way in, no! It's already in! Flames! Heat! Confusion! You must shove everything hard and fast. As far as you can Savannah. Shove!"
"But I’ll break my tv."
"Your tv? Did you hear me? Flames Savannah! Flames! Your tv is not surviving. Listen I have a better plan, when I had my bed against the gate I did a dry run. Your box spring is lower than the gate, so all you have to do you remove your mattress and then the gate will swing open. That’s what you do Savannah, throw the mattress off!" I say, moving to the foot of the bed, still using my gestures to explain. "See? Like this! And this is also what you do if there is an intruder because then you have the mattress between you and the shooter. He, or she, can’t see where you are and then you have a better chance.”
"You're insane, you know that right?” She says, sort of insisting rather than asking, in a tone she often gives me after I go off on one of my tangents.
"No, I'm not. I just always need to have an escape route." Savannah and I stare at one another for a few seconds. She has peaked both of her eyebrows. She’s waiting for me to realize what I’ve said. But I already have.
Right now there are moments of my life flashing before me as I reflect in a conversation Savannah and I had last week when I had her up for mimosas and to chat about how I wanted to break up with the guy I had been seeing by ignoring him, or what I prefer to call ‘the gentle phase-out.’ Something I’m sad to say has become a trademark move of mine when ending relationships. “I’m so busy,” I whine. “Everything is fine. I’ll be in touch.” I reassure, and then I never am
The week prior to this conversation Savannah had said, “Be an adult. Just tell him why you want to stop seeing him," as though I didn’t know better.
“Umm-yeah- no, that’s not really my thing,” I honestly replied, prompting social worker Savannah, the girl full feelings, to look for hidden metaphors in my words and actions. The conversation ended with Savannah promising she would eventually get me to let her ‘social-work’ me and my 'issues.’ Umm-yeah-no.
While she tries not to smile Savannah lowers her eyebrows, and before she can attempt to deconstruct my last sentence and the deeper meaning behind it, I declare. "Okay. I heard that. I always need an escape route. I have issues and metaphors. You happy? I’ll go write an essay."
And here we are.
Let me be clear, I know where this escape route thing stems from. When I was four and my brother eight and asleep on the couch, our home was robbed. My mother was tied up and I was the only person that ever saw the robber. The man went through our home, but ended up only leaving with my mother’s purse which was later recovered by some teenagers who found it in the woods near our local mall. We were all okay but the man was never caught. Naturally this incident did some long-term psychological damage to me.
And that is the explanation to why I will, or have already broken up with you by ignoring you. Good? Umm-yeah-no? Okay, fine. I’ll dig deeper and feel stuff for you.
The robbery was the first of many incidents from my childhood that have contributed to my desire to know what is going on around me at all times and to plan exactly how to get out of the worst case scenario without pain or harm.
This is probably a good time to tell you there was another attempted robbery on our home shortly after the first incident. Luckily the door was locked and my mother was able to scare the would-be robber off before he actually got in. We moved shortly after. But my traumatic childhood stories don’t end with robbery. Once at a neighbor’s house there was an explosion in the basement in the very room I had been in moments before. I was out of the house by the time the basement burst into flames but had no idea if my little sister was still where we had just been playing. Thankfully she was not and got out of the house okay, as did the three other people inside, but the family’s pets were not as lucky. This evoked my deep fear of fire or death by fire, which is why in school I took fire drills very seriously. Matter in fact, when I was in College an alarm went off during an evening class my professor said, “No smoke. I bet no fire, must be a false alarm.” I sat still another minute before interrupting her lecture and declaring I had to evacuate just in case, and ran out of the room. It was indeed a false alarm and shortly after I returned to class a bit embarrassed but at least my heart rate had returned to normal.
I have been hit by firecrackers (yes plural, on several occasions), almost drown (I still have visions of my swimming teacher saying, “she’s fine,” while I swallowed water and sank until my mother jumped in for me. My brother also saved me when the same teacher made me jump from the diving board without floaties for the first time and I panicked). I’ve almost been kidnapped at least three times that I am aware of, I’ve been in several car accidents, and may or may not have broken into the Hammond Civic Center with the neighborhood kids to see the Circus, I was terrified someone would ask to see my ticket stub and I would be arrested and sent to jail forever. Not to mention I had an older brother that liked to tie me up and leave me from dead in places like his bedroom or the our tree in our backyard. It was a busy childhood.
Don’t let my dramatic nature fool you because this is not about drama it is about being prepared. I was a Girl Scout, it was our motto. And I listened when grownups said - safety-first! Rules are made for reasons. Expect the unexpected and you will always be expecting it. So if an alarm goes off, I respond accordingly.
It's only natural I apply that to everything in my life. If something is incredibly under-priced shouldn’t I worry about its quality? Or if a girl I hang out with spends all our time together complaining about her other girlfriends, am I not right to wonder if she spends all her time with them bitching about me? And if on the first time to my apartment when a date makes himself a little too comfortable shouldn’t I flash forward five years when we are living in a pigsty and he’s leaving his shit everywhere, and I mean that literally. Everywhere. And there I am cleaning the kitchen, not because I am a neat freak and I like to clean the kitchen and besides no one will never do it the way I like it so I might as well just do it myself -but because he didn’t even offer to help clean, or hell to even take his dishes to the sink, even though it was me alone that slaved over making a fancy dinner, one that did not come from a box or the frozen section of the grocery store, because I am trying to impress him and so I'm on my best behavior, while he sits in my favorite chair and watches some show I hate, and hardly looks up at me when I bring him dessert, one that required baking. I hate baking. And so can you blame me for staring at him wondering how I not going to plan escape route from my future with him? Can you?
Look, I don’t like confrontation. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings and sometimes I think a relationship can end sans a long drawn out story about how we feel and why we feel that way. ‘I’m busy,’ is so much easier than, ‘you’re boring,’ or ‘not smart,’ or ‘you suck in bed,” or ‘I love you and am afraid to get my heart broken. Again.”
So yes, when I use public transportation, or walk into an unfamiliar room, or enter a relationship, I like to know the worst case scenario and how I am going to get out of it without someone getting hurt. That’s what escape routes are for.
Valerie Harper May 15th 2002
I stood at the stage door clutching my autograph book praying I would be able to say something, anything, when Valerie Harper was in front of me. The stage door opened and shut a few times. False alarms. I contemplated turning away; perhaps the reality of this person would ruin the image I had created of her in my mind. This had happened to me before with other celebrities, but before I had time to decide Valerie suddenly appeared. She looked the same up close, just as I remembered her from the Mary Tyler Moore Show and from the stage but this time she was not in character, she was just Valerie.
She was carrying a small vase of assorted flowers in one hand while using the other to gesture a story to an older gentleman and (I assume) his granddaughter. Valerie was telling the little girl a story, something about math or a math class. I was only half listening as I was in awe of Valerie being right in front of me, in the flesh. She acknowledged the crowd of people gathered by the stage door but kept telling her story to the man and girl.
Over walked a man in a black suit and offered to take the flowers from her. “Are you my driver?” She asked. He nodded. “Oh wonderful! Thanks. I’m going to sign for a bit. Where are you?” she asked looking to the street. He pointed to a black limo just down the block.
Valerie continued to gracefully sign Playbills and pose for pictures, still talking to the man and the little girl. When she arrived in front of me, she took my book from my hands and signed her name. Just her name. When she handed the book back to me we locked eyes. Her shoulders dropped and she took the book back placing it close to her chest.
“Are you crying?”she asked. I nodded. “Well why? Is something wrong?”
“I love you,” was all I could manage. Then the tears rolled down my face so quickly I could not clear them away fast enough.
“What is your name?”
“Michele with one L,” I sniffed.
“Have you met Michele Lee?” she asked looking around to see if Michele Lee was near.
“No,” I answered.
Valerie went on to say I should wait and meet her. I nodded (anything you say, Valerie Harper). She went back to my autograph book with a blue pen. To her signature she added “To Michele” and “Love” before adding a heart at the bottom. She handed the book back to me while everyone looked on. My tears became sobs. With a small laugh she reached out and pulled me to her side. She started asking me questions, basic things like where I was from, how old I was and what I was studying in school. I managed to pull it together to answer that I wanted to be a teacher before briefly going off about how the syndicated MTM show on Nick at Night was my escape during my parent’s divorcee.
“Michele, I think you should be an actress. You have a lot of energy and you are an engaging story teller, such passion behind your words.”
“OK." (Anything you say, Valerie Harper)
“I’m serious; I would come watch you on stage. Wouldn't you?” She asked, turning to the crowd. Everyone nodded.
Just then the older man chimed in to say he needed to get the little girl home. They left with kisses goodbye. Valerie continued down the line posing for pictures all the while keeping me a short distance from her side and my book in her armpit. As she signed and posed the crowd dwindled down and it was then I remembered I also had a camera.
“I need a picture. But just of you.” I said
“You should be in it too.”
“My face is swollen and I look gross,”
“No you don’t, and even if you did, it doesn't matter, one day you’re going look back on this and want a picture of us together. So I will do one alone but only if you also take one with me.”
“Deal.” (Anything you say, Valerie Harper).
When the photos were taken and when she thought she had gotten to everyone, she asked to make sure. “Everyone OK?” The theater goers all nodded. It was then I apologized to crowd for taking up so much of Valerie’s time. Then, after I had finally stopped crying and pulled myself together, I turned to her and said;
“I’m sorry I cried.” Valerie turned to me and shook her head in disbelief. She took both of her small hands and placed them on my arms. She leaned in closer to me and I noticed how perfectly lined in black her eyes were. She demanded my attention with a stern look. Then Valerie Harper said something that I would never forget, a line that would forever change me as an individual.
“Michele, listen, this is important. Never apologize for how you feel. A tear is an emotion, like a smile or a laugh. You feel how you feel and you don’t ever have to apologize for that. Never apologize for your emotions. Do you understand me?
“OK,” I said, right before bursting back into a sobbing mess. With a sigh and a small chuckle she pulled me back to her chest. She rubbed my back as if she were trying to warm me up. She whispered in my ear, “You have got to take some acting classes.”
She pulled back from our embrace, handed me my book and said goodbye to all her fans. I stood there never wanting the time to end. I watched her walk to her limo. When she reached the car the driver opened her door. Just before she got in she turned and yelled out my name while scanning the crown to find me again. I froze. When she found me she yelled my name again.
“MICHELE!” She put her hand over her heart and then to her lips, waved to me and mouthed “thank you".
I don't know what she thanked me for but I will never forget that night and since that moment I have never apologize for what I'm feeling.
I wrote this for a class in 2007. I have not gone back and edited any of it. I want to share this because of the horrific Nanny story in the News this week. As someone over a dozen New York City families have trusted with their lives, their cars, homes and most importantly, children, I feel a deep bit of sorrow as details emerge. The interviews of moms in the neighborhood keep saying, "you trust these people," and I think, "these people," what does that mean? I mean, I know what they mean. I know right now everyone is terrified. This Nanny was with her family for two years. This was not some terrorist they found last week online.I personally think this woman snapped. I think she had a moment and freaked out. But I am still offended by the way mothers keep saying "these people." Just lumping all childcare workers into one group. Still, the real matter at hand is this families tragic loss. The entire thing breaks me.
I thought of this short essay I wrote on Luke, and as I said it was for a class and could use a good edit but I think it encompasses how much I love the kid. I love all my kids and all my families and I am just as lucky to have them as they are to have me. Luke now lives in Dallas and I wish more than anything I could hug him, and his brothers right now.
If I could only use one word to describe Luke, a person who has had a profound effect on my life and on my heart, I would choose generous. If I could add to the list I would choose, funny, loving, brave, and imaginative. In the three years I have known him he has never been afraid to share his emotions. I have often seen him cry, I have watched him laugh until he could not breath. I have listened to him explain in great detail his fears and dreams. He wears his heart on his sleeve. In Luke’s perfect world everything would be fair. If Luke was in charge there would be no winners or losers. In Luke’s dreams he is eating ice cream, drinking a sprite and watching TV. Luke is 5 years old.
He stands before me a sturdy 3'6 inches. I use the word sturdy because he not only knows what he wants but how to get it. He will fight for what he believes in even after he has already been defeated. His hands are small and often clammy as he cannot keep them from his mouth. Those tiny hands have built sand castles in the Bahamas, grasped the rains on a horse in Montana and held the fence of Buckingham Palace. His blond hair almost turns white after a summer in the sun. His pale skin is sensitive and requires special care. He has blue eyes that twinkle when he gets his way which is often because he rarely asks for much. He prefers his blue glasses though his red ones agree more with his outgoing personalty. Luke’s feelings are hurt easily, another testimony of his kind soul. Luke hates to be scared or surprised. He likes to run with the older boys but acts much better as a leader to the younger ones.
A recent moment Luke shared his wit and generosity with me was on a family trip. I've been part of his extend family for three yeas now, living in his home as his Nanny. He had asked to sleep in my hotel room after a day of hiking in Glacier National Park. His reasoning was that he did not want me to be scared. Truthfully, I am glad his parents said it was ok, the wilderness does scare me. We were getting ready for bed when he stopped brushing his teeth to tell me something “really important”. He showed me something he had just bought in a gift shop. He explained his new treasure, "This string attaches to my glasses and I put it around my neck and they can’t fall off, see?" He proceeded to flip his head around in circles while his glasses stayed put. "That’s great Luke" I reply. He looks up at me with a huge smile and added "I'm going to get one for you for your birthday, OK?" I tried not to laugh, he hates when he feels like he is being laughed it. " I don't wear glasses, Bear" I said, using my nick name for him to soften the blow. Without missing a beat he replied "You wear sun glasses." Luke constantly sees things in creative ways most people do not. When Luke finds something that makes him happy, he wants everyone else to have it too.
Luke was about to turn four when we were vacationing in the Bahamas. A man walked over to me and his then 5-year-old brother, Jack. The man asked Luke if he would like a coconut and Luke nodded. Luke asked me if he could ask the man for two so that Jack could have one also. I told Luke how nice that was but that it was a gift and we could not be greedy. Luke could not grasp the concept of a gift being a coconut. “Michele?" Luke asked squinting as he looked up into the noon sky to see me, "Do the children here get coconuts for their birthdays?" As I tried to explain to him what I meant I used an event earlier in the day. I reminded him of lunch time when he gave me a fry and I said "Thank you" not "can I have two?" We sat there and argued while we waited for the man to return. When the man arrived, he placed the coconut in Luke’s tiny hands and Luke thanked him. Luke turned to Jack and said "There is only one and I think you should have it”and he places it into Jacks hands. Luke turned to me and said "That is not a gift, it's a coconut and I would have given you all of my fries if you wanted them." Not only were his words delivered strongly they were sincere. Luke later cried when he wanted the coconut back and Jack reminded him he had given it away.
In my three years with Luke I have watched him grow and learn. I have heard him tell his brothers they could not only open his birthday gifts but also have the first turn. I was there when he asked his mother if he could donate his piggy bank to a Hurricane Katrina fund. I have helped him write notes and make cards for the people in his life he cares about, just because he knew it would make them feel good. Every weekend I watch him play soccer and cheer on his team mates, I also watch him cheer on his competitors. I have often thought about what Luke will be like in another 20 years. I imagine him to be a smart, attractive young man. I see Luke using his creativity to influence and impact his community in a positive way. I will bet that he will never have an enemy, he will never forget to write home and that he puts a TV in every room. If we all were all a little more like Luke, the world would be safer and happier. If we all lived like Luke, we would follow our dreams no matter their size and we would never back down.
For The Men I...
When I was in third grade I wrote in my “diary” (which was just a purple spiral notebook with a unicorn on it) that I wanted to have sex. I knew what sex was (at least the physical part not the emotional) but I didn’t really want to have it. A friend came over for a playdate and told me that I had to write the name of a boy from our class that I wanted to do-it with. I wrote Jerry, the red headed, freckled face boy who sat next to me. My mother found this personal piece of writing and confronted me. We discussed, destroyed the pages, and never spoke of sex again. I have always contributed this incident to why I have been so fearful of expressing myself on paper. Ironic I became a writer, and not just any kind of writer but a nonfiction writer.
Not too long ago I dated someone who asked me to never write about him. I was relieved. Often men come into my life hoping and hinting that I might write about them. It doesn’t work that way. Not with me. Once someone has shown interest in my writing I tend to shy away from expressing how I feel about them. Especially through words that can be seen and reread. It’s not that I don’t want to write about love (or in my case lack thereof) it’s that I don’t know how to. Mostly because I don’t know where to start or end. I like to middle.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I’m not the type of girl who is going to write you a love poem.
So when the same man that asked me to never mention him in my stories confessed that he secretly hoped I would write about him, about us and what we had (or by that time didn’t) I realized it was time to move on and never write back.
But recently I found some of my writing inside a diary which I keep hidden in a place that my mother can never find. Revisiting the material I realize how far I have come as a writer and that I am not that scared little girl anymore. So here I’ll share a few of those old pieces of writing and one new one.
(And if you’re reading this mom, I still don’t want to talk about sex.)
I sat in a computer room at a fancy hotel in a country I had never been to. I had never been anywhere.
I wrote I was moving to New York City and:
promise me you won’t…not like this. Not now.
You wrote: I would never do that. But I do.
And I wrote: I know. Me too.
Then the space between us seemed smaller and larger at the same time.
Our love is recorded in 207 emails and a valentine message on a vhs.
I wrote about a new love and:
You wrote: all relationships that end well never really end.
I was wrong. You are right.
Haiku (for the man I would not let love me)
I've learned that if I
turn to him and bend my knees
he can’t embrace me.
I was lying in bed with my live-in boyfriend when you called. I stepped out onto the balcony to listen to your voicemail for the first of at least fifty times. You said, “I’m hoping you call me back and beg me to take the last train to New York City tonight.” It was complicated - our everything. You are the man I have written about the most, but mostly in my head. But was it real or did we make it up? Two writers can write the perfect story but what happens when they stop writing?
As you know, the contract which you and I had entered has changed its terms and conditions. Therefore I’m writing to suggest that we draw up new contract. My friends say I should terminate the agreement, even before you are gone, that it’s not worth the inevitable heartbreak. I disagree. I mean I agree but disagree. I mean I’m willing to chance it (the heartbreak being worth it that is). You see, there was this boy, just like you (well not just like you) but he was new here (and on a timeline like you) and I hesitated with him (the same way I hesitate with you) and then I lost him. That seems to be a reoccurring thing with me. My point is that I am going to lose you anyway, now or later, actually- is now later? Yes, because it’s later than the original later, but Fall is also later so will the new later be later than Fall? I hope so. We have yet to have the perfect Fall together. And when you go will you be gone for good? Sometimes my head thinks no but my heart knows yes. I don’t know what I know except that I know about you and I still want you. That has to mean something. Or maybe this is just my thing, catch and release? But with you it feels more like caught and about to be released. Is that my thing? Can two things be my thing? Anyhow, back to what I was saying, our contract needs to be renegotiated. I suggest we keep the offer but take a closer look at the consideration. I mean, I think I’m a nice girl, a little crazy perhaps, and definitely chatty, but nice. And about the termination part… I don’t need the two month warning your landlord asks for, just one last night in New York City. You in your suit and me in my pearls.
Sometimes I think about you sleeping. I think about your entangled legs and wonder if mine would have fit as nicely as you say hers do. We will never know. This I have made sure of.
Once I turned a doodle of your name into a pregnant woman holding a child’s hand.
The first time you said her name to me
I was overlooking the ocean
the sun had just set enough
to call it dusk
You said, only for love though
she had a ticketing timeline
the fear of Russian again
a courthouse/a piece of paper/ a hero.
And there in the picture
your wedding day
sadness in a quiet cup of coffee
and cheesecake at a diner
I think I loved the view of New York City from your bedroom window more than you loved my earlobes. I heard you in the middle of the night and I googled your prescriptions the next morning. It made sense – why we didn’t make it. I hadn’t purged the memories from my last relationship and you were already purging me.
For the man I never wrote for,
The truth is I can’t write about you. I have tried over and over. I tried to write in the first person. I tried to write in the third person. I tried to write in dialog. I went back to writing in the first person narrative but couldn’t figure out what I was narrating. So I tried to write in fiction (and you know that I rarely write fiction). As a last resort I tried a free write, and I made progress but only because I strayed from the topic of you. Through all this attempted writing I realized I couldn’t write about you because you were the author when it came to us. In fact I believe you had already written the story of us even before that first kiss on my doorstep. I have dated writers before but none of them wrote our story before we lived it. And truthfully, that’s why I had to end things between us. You wrote a romance with complicated characters and plots. You wanted to stick to your script. I wanted to make our story up as we went along.
Saturday Morning in Amagansett
He scrunches his nose while small laughs come through the gap between his two front teeth. He knows he is misbehaving but also knows that there is a chance he will get away with it if he’s cute enough. His father, spatula in hand, turns from the stove and looks the boy in his eyes. Not pointing, but perhaps directing the utensil towards the child he says, “Son. I think you’re going to need some music.” The boy’s sisters squeal with delight at the thought of the stereo so early in the morning. The father picks up a remote control and suddenly a song, which once one hears is nearly impossible to get out of one’s head, fills the room. The lyrics begin, “Your lipstick stains/on the front lobe of my left side brains,” everyone here has learned this tune and sings with confidence. The two girls, overwhelmed with excitement, begin to climb from their chairs up onto the sterling silver counter which, until now, they have be scooted beneath, separated only by their nightgowns and the napkins in their laps. As the father approaches them, the girls begin to retract, knowing that actions such as dancing on tables are strictly prohibited. The father traps the younger girl with his hands and then gently places her on top of the counter as she takes her small hands and sweeps her curls from her face. The older daughter’s eyes brighten as she realizes they have been granted permission to break a rule. Again she begins the crawl to join her sibling. She is longing to make this journey on her own. Her father, who recognizes this, stands behind her in case she slips. When both girls are standing side by side, the father he gives them a look that implies, “be careful,” and then returns to the stove to flip pancakes before lowering the flame, so that this suddenly lesser important task does not burn. The son, who secretly longs to join the girls up in the air, finds his own joy in marching around the dining room table on the seats of the matching chairs, which he quickly pulled out from their places for this specific purpose, once he realized that momentarily all rules are suspended. The girls bounce their hips in rhythm with the beat of the song while the father moves close in case of a slight misstep. I too want to sing and dance but instead I step into the son’s bedroom, just off the kitchen, and straighten up the already made bed. Through the crack in the door I get a sliver of this seemingly perfect family. “Mommy!” is heard over the music. The mother, not fully awake yet, pauses to kiss each of her children before wishing her husband a not-so-out-of-the-ordinary good morning. While he pours her coffee into a white ceramic cup, she smiles warmly at the sight of her blissful children and perhaps at the knowledge that not all families are this lucky. As the husband adds a milk based froth to her beverage, prepared just the way she likes it, whipped not stirred, the song comes to an end. I am rearranging perfectly arranged books in the bedroom when the father asks, “Again?” and is answered with three cheers of, “YES!”just as the song begins to play again.
My mother has been having some issues with a new addition to her family, her rooster. When she bought six chicks she didn’t know one was a male. My mother and step-father have always been big bacon and eggs people. They are the types who have breakfast for dinner. The idea was that their little friends would produce eggs for consumption. And produce they have. I’ve been home twice since these new additions came into my parent’s country home. The quantity of eggs is taking over all three of their refrigerators. Then again, we had twice as many deviled eggs for Thanksgiving and Christmas so maybe I should not complain. Anyhow, my mother has named the rooster Brutus, who apparently is a force to be reckoned with.
“He hates me Michele. I have no idea why!”
“Were you nice to him when you got him?”
“Yes! I was a good chicken mom.”
“I go out there and he attacks me. He chases me and pecks at me. Not your step-father, just me. I carry a stick when I go out there.”
“A stick mom? Really?”
“Yes, really! Last week I was standing in barn and he was watching me, planning his attack. I could see it in his eyes. He was staring at me like, ‘Bring it on you bitch!’”
“So what happened?”
"I stood in my barn and yelling at my rooster like a crazy woman. ‘You want some of this Brutus? I will beat your ass. Come at me! I dare you!’”
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
“No. Really. It is getting out of hand. Shelly, all he does is eat, shit and beat me up.”
I decided to go meet this Brutus. I walk out to the barn and I find all six of the birds staring at me. They are full grown but still cute. I return inside.
“So, how did it go Shelly?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about mom, Brutus game me a hug. Seems like a nice guy.”
“Where did I go wrong? I was a good chicken mom. I was.”
When my parents announced a weekend trip to Kentucky my siblings both heard, “To grandmothers’ house we go.” I on the other hand (the one always stuck in the middle) heard, “Well Chela, because you’re the shortest, that’s why.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved to spend time with my grandparents but the seven hours car trip was not something I looked forward to, especially since I never got to sit by the window.
We owned a 1982, two door, Camero Berlinetta, it was a tight fit in the gold four seater. Since I measured exactly 2 inches shorter than my younger sister, I was forced to sit in the middle of the backseat on what I call “the hump”. “The hump” was not an actual seat, it was a rounded area between the two back seats, it was carpeted, hard, and after 100 miles, hot as hell. Since my little sister grew faster than me, I was forced to sit on “the hump” during full family car trips. This was probably not the safest place for a child but in the early 90’s, so let’s just excuse it as, were in no position to buy a new car.
We made those trips quite often, sometimes every other weekend. We were allowed one fifteen minuet break at the exact half way point, by mileage, in a city named Terra Haute. By the time we reached Terra Haute, my legs were cramped and my back was sore. I had been used as a card table and often a shield by my siblings. Normally right after our break, my siblings (bellies full) would use their windows to prop their pillows up against as they doze off. I was seated so high up, I could not see out the front window without crouching down into an uncomfortable position. I was always in the way of the rearview mirror and basically spent six odd hours staring at my stepdads reflection. I never said “no” when my little sister asked me to scratch her back, a favor never returned. I never said “no” when my brother wanted to lean on me, even though he would freak out if I leaned back. For the most part I kept one leg one each “side” of my siblings leg space but sometimes I would stretch them out into the front seat, if my mom was still awake she would rub my feet. I use to fantasize about all the things I would do sitting next to the window, not fall asleep like my lame siblings.
Then in the summer of 1993 a miracle happened, my stepdad got sick! We would be making the scheduled trip to Kentucky without him. I would finally get my own window in the back seat! I just knew it was going to be the best trip ever. I was first to get in the car that Friday morning. With my pillow in my lap, not under my bottom, I sat quietly waiting for my family. When my older brother approached the car I could see through the tiny window he was angry. My mother followed him loudly directing her words at me “Chela, you’re in front.” My brother gave me the look of death as he pulled the front seat forward to let me out. I heard him whisper, “It’s not fair, I’m the oldest” Confused and quite frankly, frightened, I moved up to the front seat without asking questions.
As we left our block my mother smiled and said, “Plenty of leg room huh Chela?” Yes but, didn’t she understand? It was not about the leg room. I had my very own window. The world was mine to look at! I rolled down my window which was three times the size of the ones in back and breathed deep. “It’s too windy back here!” my sister shouted, so I quickly rolled it up where it remained for the duration of the trip. I tried not to make eye contact in the side mirror with my brother as I counted cows, the extent of things I could come up with to do with my window. As I dozed off on my pillow propped up against the window I heard my siblings giggling over a game of go-fish in the back seat. I yawned and asked “Mom? Will you wake me up in Terra Haute?”
What Else Have You Lied to Me About, MOM?
Over a recent dinner I was telling a friend of mine about some of my childhood pets. Fluffy was a huge white Samoyed who was always trying to escape our yard. We were forced to keep her on a leash attached to a close line in our backyard. She had plenty of room to run but her line would stop her a few feet from the gate that enclosed our back yard. One afternoon Fluffy managed to get loose. The local pound found our number on her tags and called our home. My mother and I went to retrieve our mischievous dog.
At the pound I met Sandy. Sandy was on death row. She was a golden short hair mutt who had been in and out of the pound for several months. “We don’t know much about her, she is very friendly but no one seems to want to keep her,” the lady at the pound told my mother. “You can’t kill her, you just can’t,” I said to the woman while Sandy licked my fingers through her cage. I pretended to wipe away a tear. “OK. Fine. You got me. Let’s go girl,” my mother said.
Sandy was my best friend. She had a ton of energy. We guessed she was an older puppy despite her large frame. She loved Fluffy but Fluffy did not seem to love her. They were opposites. Sandy would not run away, she loved our yard. Because of this she was never leashed. Fluffy was more relaxed and was happy with a chew toy in the shade. Sandy needed constant attention and loved to play catch, the only time she went into the shade was to mess with Fluffy. Fluffy would snip at Sandy but Sandy thought it was a game. Fluffy hated to be indoors, Sandy would sit at our backdoor looking through the glass window begging to be let in. Fluffy enjoyed a good scratch but liked to sleep alone. Sandy and I spooned when I could convince my mother to let her sleep inside.
“So what happened to Sandy?” my friend asked over dessert. “Oh, well we went on vacation and my mother asked a woman in our area with lots of other dogs on a big farm watch her. My mom told me she had never seen Sandy so happy before and that she wanted to let Sandy stay there. I was pretty bummed but I understood. I mean, I could never give her enough attention and she loved other dogs. It took a while but I got over it. Someplace in my heart I knew it was right.” My friend leaned in over the dinner table with a look of confusion on his face.
“Where did you grow up again?”
“South East Chicago.”
“There were farms in your area?”
“Um, I have to go call my mother now.”
I went to the street and dialed with a lump in my throat. My stepfather picked up the house phone.“I need to talk to my mom,” I said to Gene.“She is napping right now, can I have her call you back?”
“What happened to Sandy?” I asked sternly.
“Um. Hold on. I think I hear your mom getting up.”
My mother’s version of the story goes like this:
“We all loved Sandy. We did. But Shelly, she ate everything. She ate a hole in the shed so she could peek in to see Fluffy. She ate countless pairs of my shoes. She ate the peddles off of all of our bikes. She ate part of the deck. At night when we left her outside she howled all night long. The neighborhood association kept placing notices in our mailbox about the noise violations and Sandy received a death threat. We are pretty sure it was from the crazy old man who lived right behind us. That is why we allowed her to sleep in your room. Fluffy was our family dog for five years, Sandy drove her nuts. Fluffy withdrew from the family entirely. Sandy was always dirty. She loved the dirt, she bathed in the dirt, which I why I hated her sleeping in your bed. I had to bath her almost every night. She dug up my flowerbed, and countless holes in the yard. You were too young to notice and remember these things. Gene used to catch her eating her own poop. Shelly, I know you loved her but she was kind of gross. We just could not take it anymore.”
“So? So what did you do with her? Pound?”
“No. I promise. A lady from my office had two teenage boys and a lot of land next to their home. It was not a farm but there was much more room for here there. I promise. I wanted to let you visit her but I knew it would break your heart. She had a good life, I know it.”
“We gave her to the pound. No one wanted that disgusting dog. I’m so sorry
Garden of Little Lambs
I'm sorry I broke the lamp and blamed my sister, I'm sorry I got caught. I'm sorry I set the living room on fire. I'm sorry that I told you I had a diary and wrote I wanted to have sex, I'm sorry you read it. I'm sorry I stole 32 cents from your change dish and looked under the dresser, I'm sorry those magazines weren’t out of my reach. I'm sorry I called you names on the playground, pranked your house and didn't invite you to my 4th grade sleepover. I'm sorry I painted your nails pink the night before boy scout camp while you slept, I'm sorry I poured the nail polish remover down the sink before I did it. I'm sorry I lost the dog. I'm sorry I punched your son, and your daughter, and your niece, and that pale kid who lived on the corner. I'm sorry I blew out your candles. I'm sorry I put your house up for sale and smashed your pumpkin. I'm sorry I kissed your brother. I'm sorry I said fuck. I'm sorry I used you for your pool, I'm sorry you told everyone we hung out all summer. I'm sorry I lost the keys, the message, the earring and your lucky penny. I'm sorry I broke your heart. I'm sorry I lied about what dad got you for Christmas, I'm sorry you looked so sad sitting by the tree. I'm sorry I let the snakes go in the house. I'm sorry I climbed out the window and I'm sorry the rope broke. I'm sorry for telling the dentist I scrape the yellow stuff off with my nail. I'm sorry I didn't write, didn't call, didn't explain. I'm sorry I kicked your girlfriend. I'm sorry I stood you up. I'm sorry I drank the vodka and I'm sorry I puked on your mom’s new sofa. I'm sorry I washed the cat and cut off his whiskers. I'm sorry the PTA called to control the rumors about dad being on a special mission for NASA which involved going to Mars. I’m sorry for all the things I can’t remember I’m sorry about.
"I'm down stairs" he says, "I'll be right down" she replies into the phone. As she tosses her cell into her bag she smiles and grabs her coat. It's been a warm spring day but she knows in a few short hours the Manhattan evening will bring a cool breeze. As she waits for the elevator she applies a dark red lipstick to her mouth, her teeth are freshly brushed and her long chestnut hair back in a ponytail. She is wearing new gold sandals, her favorite pair of jeans and a navy top she bought for a first date, not theirs. Down three floors, the door of the elevator opens and she struts down the hall hoping no one is watching her on the buildings overhead security camera.
When she opens the door of her building, she is met with a warm breeze that carries the sweet smell of her perfume out into the downtown air. He is sitting in his dark green Jeep, the top is down, he has a baseball cap on, and 90's mixed CD blaring. Their eyes meet, he smiles, she smiles. She climbs into the car and gives him a kiss on the cheek and then she gently rubs the lipstick from his face using her thumb. "You ready Joan?" he asks. She laughs and with full sincerity replies "with you, I'm ready for anything!”
They drive east, turn right and head further downtown. They park down the street from his apartment where he has left his wallet and jacket. They climb one flight of stairs and he unlocks the door to his studio. She walks into the kitchen, pours herself a glass of wine, red, turns on his ipod and steps out onto the balcony. With the sun just starting to set over the Hudson River, it seems everyone from nearby Wall Street is in need of a drink. While she watches the people pass by, she feels content, happy; she silently wonders how she got so lucky. She hears him talking from the kitchen but it’s all mumbles under the construction from across the street. When she beings to return inside for a better listen, she pauses, thanks God and reminds herself to breath. Back inside he walks over and meets her at the foot of the bead. He kisses her on the forehead and declares "I'm ready." He smiles, she smiles.
They leave the building and turn right as he leads her down a tiny street filled with restaurants that now spill over onto the cobblestone street. Most people here have just gotten off of work, and there is hardly a tourist in sight. The tables are all so similar it is hard to tell where one restaurant ends and another begins. They pick a place and are seated amongst the suit and tie crowd. They order from a Brazilian waitress. She is tall, has long curly brown hair and a killer smile. She is not gorgeous, maybe not beautiful but still attractive. Her accent is thick and she seems overwhelmed. She remembers their drink orders, it's simple, a beer for each but needs to write down their food selection. He orders a burger, medium well and fries, she has the cheese ravioli. As the sun continues to set they people watch, share found memories of their short time together and anticipate were the Friday evening will lead.
When the bill arrives she offers up cash but he declines. As they collect their things to leave her eyes are met by a man who has been dinning a few tables back. He looks to be in his late 20's, brown hair, black suit, light blue button down and a dark blue tie. He reminds the girl of a man she used to date. He smiles at her and for a split second she is flattered. The man is sitting with a woman that the girl has not noticed until now. The woman is blond she is wearing a tan suit with a cream silk top. The girl can't see the women's feet but guesses she is wearing brown pumps. The woman is ordinary; she blends in with the light wooden tables. The woman notices the man staring off and turns to see what he is looking at. The woman looks around for second and then catches the eye of the girl. Her stare is stern and cold, the girl looks back at the man and notices his wedding ring, she shakes her head and turns back to her date. He smiles, she smiles. He offers up his arm and she takes it.
They proceed down cobblestone street, the search is on for a hole in the wall they stumbled into months ago. He asks her to wait while he uses the restroom inside his favorite bar. As she stands alone, she searches the crowd of people not sure what she is looking for. She breaks her own rule thinking too far ahead, she wonders how she will be able to give the area up if she losses him. That's how this city works, after a break up there are certain places each person claims. This street now acts like friends and family in a relationship, if she loses him she loses it too. The thought is too overwhelming so she shakes it off just in time from his return. The sunlight has almost run out entirely but not quite. He leads the way as she follows him onto a paved sidewalk. He reaches back to hold her hand and she feels a rush of warmth run through her body followed by a chill. He turns back to look at her, he smiles, she smiles, the city is theirs
A Lost Shell
I hate that when I tell people I am a Nanny they ask me what my “real” job is. Rasing children, the future of our world, is not only one of the most difficult jobs I can think of but it is one of the noblest ones. While as a childcare provider the majority of teaching falls into your hands, every so often a child can teach you a great lesson. In the summer of 2007 my five year old charge Luke did just that.
We decided to take an evening walk down the beach to collect shells and kill some time before bed. As Luke took off towards the waves crashing into the shoreline, I smoothed out my beach towel on the cool sand and sat down. I kept my eyes on him in the ocean. I let my mind go, truthfully I had not been able to stop it for weeks. I had been overanalyzing one particular relationship the past few days. While my head raced about relationships past, present and future, I zoned out.
The sound of the waves crashing into the shore, drowned out the sounds of children playing in the water. I sensed something was wrong so I focused in on Luke. The look on his face when he turned towards me sent me into a panic. I sprang up and ran to him as quickly as my legs have ever traveled. He was screaming at the top of his lungs "It's gone, I lost it, I lost it." I knelt down into the cold water of the ocean and put my arms around him. "Bear, what did you lose?" I asked. He took a deep breath "My shell, it's GONE!" Relieved he was not hurt or had lost something of real importance, I smiled and offered to help him find a new shell. Silly me. My offer was not well received. He went on to tell me that it was a special shell and that he tried to scratch an itch and then dropped it. I explained that the waves carry things away very quickly and it was impossible to find it now. I offered a hug and again to help find a new shell. At five years old he just could not understand that his shell was gone for good. He continued to cry and refused to move from the spot he lost it in. While the waves knocked into his small body, he kept his head down. His tears were sliding down his face, and into the already salty water. I only stood there for a few minutes pretending to help but there was nothing I could do to make this better.
When I returned to my sandy beach towel, my thought was Luke would quickly forget about his lost belonging and move on; I was wrong. Something I saw to be easily replaced, he saw as irreplaceable. Something a dime a dozen to me, he found the rarity in. I realized he needed to learn this lesson on his own. He might not get it right away but he was bound to see clearly sooner or later. His heart would soon hurt less and he will find another shell that will make him just as, if not more happy. He just needed more time before he was ready to come out of the water, so I waited. I sat and watched him search for that shell for over half an hour. It was painful at times because I could not stop his tears. I sat their helplessly watching him knowing he would never recover something he loved then lost.
And then it hit me. I had lost something I could never replace and deep down I was too afraid to walk away and admit I was defeated. I stood up and walked down to the water. I knew I needed to tell him something he (and I for that matter) did not want to hear. I walked close to him with my heart racing. This time I did not notice how cold the ocean was. I looked down and bluntly said “Luke, I love you and I am sorry you are hurt but you are never going to get that shell back, come out now!” Luke was shaking when he lifted his head and said “Will you please come get me?” I walked a few more feet in and scooped his tiny body up into my arms. I walked back to where I was sitting and wrapped him up in a beach towel. We both cried for a while.
Luke and I both learned lessons that summer night. He learned the ocean swallows shells quickly. I learned that if you stand alone in one spot looking for something you have lost, it proves how much it meant to you but it does not necessarily mean you are going to get it back.
Girl on the Train
As I approach the holding area in Penn Station a voice echoes “ Hamptons and Montauk track 19”
That’s the cue to scurry as fast as you can to your track and hope you get a seat on the train. I try to keep up with the anxious stampede of weekend vacationers and the summer Friday crowd that ended their work day at 1:00. As a true New Yorker, I don’t wait for the passengers to exit before thrusting myself onto the overcrowded car near the rear of the train. I find a seat on the aisle across from an older gentleman wearing a blue striped shirt, no tie. His legs take up most of the space between us. I catch my breath and sigh, it feels good to sit, comfortable until we switch train in Jamaica Queens.
“Excuse me” a woman towering over me says. The man and I move our legs to the center aisle so she can pass; her dress brushes my knee sending chills up my spine. She sits next to the man with no tie. She opens her tan bag and pulls out a light blue book. The letters D V are on the cover in a whimsical font just above the name Diane Vreeland. There is a picture of a woman with gray hair wearing a brimmed hat with a white flower over her left ear. I look down to make sure my US is not sticking out of my bag, pull out Downtown by Pete Hamill, and place it on my lap. I am trying not to stare at her; do I love her or hate her?
She has on tan sandals that match her tan bag perfectly, the two inch heels make me feel better about standing shorter than her in my flats. Her toes are painted a deep orange; her fingernails are short, coated light pink, colors I could never pull off. The hem on her knee length dress is ruffled, it dances on the air she parts with her body as she gilded to her seat. I can picture her in a department store dressing room examining the dress. She runs her fingers over the silk fabric; it makes her feel delicate, feminine. It’s a beautiful blue dress with tiny patterns of purple flowers with dark green stems. She has belted a dark blue ribbon around her waist that is tied perfectly in a bow at her navel. She holds her book between the thumb and pinky of her left hand. She listens to her ipod while running her right hand through her hair; it’s the lightest shade of brown before you would call her a blond. The ruffle that hems her dress also lines the V of her cleavage just where her right hand ends with every stroke through her mane. The small diamonds resting on her chest form the shape of an “S”, I want one in the shape of an “M”.
She has a normal build, not stick thin, not voluptuous. Her breasts are in proportion to her frame, I guess a 34 B. Wrapped around her left wrist is a silver watch with a square front that makes it look masculine, the last thing I would accessorize the dress with. Maybe it was a gift, something that makes her feel secure. I stare at her makeup free, sun-kissed, freckle face while she continues to read her book. I always wanted freckles. The song on her ipod distracts her from reading. She begins to jester her right hand as though she is playing the drums. She doesn’t fool me. I know she can’t play the drums. I bet she’s been drunk at an Ivy League Frat party, using twizzlers as drum sticks for her air drum, trying to keep the beat.
I have assumed she is heading for the Hamptons, no doubt she is not a Nanny but she carries no weekend luggage. Her piercing blue eyes do not hold the anticipation of dinner at Della Famina, or shopping on Main Street between lying on the beach and paddling around Georgica Pong. I can’t figure her out but I am drawn to her.
“Next Stop Jamaica, transfer here to track 8 for the Montauk train making all stops in the Hamptons” , I finally break my stare. I need to collect my things; I dry my palms on my cotton shorts and begin to worry. Will she transfer with me? A bright yellow index card falls from her book to our feet. The man and I both rush for it but I win. I hand it back to her with a smile, like a proud child trying to win my parents praise.
“Thank you” she mouths.
“You’re welcome” I shout trying to project over her earphones.
I collect my belongings and exit the train, she stays put. I stare at her from track 8 through the tinted window. The train pulls out of the station and I am left wondering what the hell just happened.
I'm a Writer
Why I Write
On the first day of a creative writing class I was asked to answer a question, “Why do you write?” My mind went blank. I could not think of anything but the question itself. It wasn’t that I didn’t necessarily know the answer to the question; it was that no one had ever asked me that question before, why do I write?
Suddenly a bunch of reasons popped into my head, I think its fun, it keeps me sane, I’m good at it, but could I write that? Was it OK to admit that writing made me feel in control, it motivated my education and I simply just like to tell stories about myself? I wondered what was everyone else was going to write. Would we have to read them out loud? Would they be collected? What was the point of this assignment?
I write because I’ve had a lot of things happen to me. I’ve slept on Bill Joel’s boat, hung out with the cast of Sesame Street, had a play date with Alec Baldwin. I’ve had a private tour of the West Wing, I’ve babysat a Supreme Court Justice’s grandkids, I’ve had Easter had dinner with Ross Pero, and once I fooled around in a Senators office. When I was accidentally locked out by the people I nannied for, a little old lady let me stay in her Park Avenue pent house guest room for the night. I have explored every inch not privately owned in The Dakota. I’ve performed on Broadway. I’ve gone spear fishing in the British West Indies. I won an Elvis impersonating contest at a high school football half time show and won year supply of Coke products. I grew up in a lower middle class family outside Gary Indiana with parents who gave me the best childhood they could offer. I have step-siblings, Latin and Greek family members, an older brother with a learning disability, many failed relationships and a bunch of dead pets. I have stories.
I write because when I do I get to make the choices. I’m in control of the words used, the punctuation, the subject matter. I make a shirt blue, a conversation vague, the day sunny. I write because it puts me in control of what information is reviled. Who was there, what was said, how it ended.
I write to make a point. I write with no point. I write on cocktail napkins while sipping red wine at bars where there is always an interesting subject to watch, to track, to document. I write to find answers, to ask questions, to challenge authority. I write to glorify the things that make human and connect us as a community. I write so that there is evidence I existed. I write to the future generations of my blood line so that they know where they are from and that my life mattered even if only to give them theirs.
I think the bottom line is that I write because I hope that someone will care. That someone will pick up something of mine and think “this is good, this is interesting.”
I hope that one day I have children or grandchildren that will find a box of my stuff with my old writings and decided not to “just toss them out.” I hope that I convey an accurate image of the people I write about, the situations I describe and details about myself.
In Joe Wenderoth’s Essay “Things to do Today” number 77 reads “practice saying something.” Throughout my personal journey that semester I made the decision that I would practice saying, “I’m a writer.” Before January of 2010 I was not sure what I would have to accomplish to consider myself a writer, but then I answered a question. “Why do you write?” Not “What do you write,” not “Who do you write for?” Why do you write? And it became clear to me. I write because if I don’t tell my stories no one else will.